The Pac-12 race may have effectively ended Saturday, barring a UA collapse down the stretch.
Arizona will face big challenges in its next four games to be sure. But its two-game lead in the loss column means that even if the Wildcats lose twice in those four games, they would at least share the Pac-12 title even if one or more of the four five-loss teams (USC, UCLA, Stanford and Washington) wins out.
This scenario was arranged quickly on Saturday, thanks not only to the Wildcats' 81-67 win over USC, but also because of UCLA's relatively uncompetitive loss at ASU and the fact that Washington kicked away a 14-point lead with eight minutes to go and lost in double-overtime at Oregon State, which created the four-way virtual tie for second.
Miller didn't make a big deal of the Pac-12 race when asked twice about it after Saturday's game. Of the big picture now, he said:
"I don’t think we were panicking," he said of UA's loss to UCLA on Thursday. "We lost a game. Sometimes a loss can really teach your team a lot of valuable lessons and I really feel like everyone who played in tonight’s game learned form that experience. We can’t control what the other teams do."
In the Wildcats’ six losses this season, Rawle Alkins didn’t play in three of them and he shot 29.4 percent in the others.
In Arizona’s 81-67 win over USC on Saturday, Alkins was 7 of 12 from the field while scoring a team-high 20 points.
When asked if the Wildcats will go as far as Alkins can carry them, Miller said they will go as far as Deandre Ayton carries them.
But Dusan Ristic made it clear Alkins brings something different when he’s on.
“Many times this year Rawle brings us some kind of toughness,” Ristic said. “When he plays well, it affects everybody on the court and everybody plays with it chip on their shoulder with extra energy and tonight was an example of that.”
Of having that reputation, Alkins said:
“It’s great to see my teammates and my coaches believe in me,” he said. “It’s always good to have everyone on your back. Especially when you have days like last week (at Washington) and the UCLA game.
“It’s great to see it’s a family and it’s not just a basketball team. It’s important when you’re trying to win a championship. When we’re playing like that, everyone’s having fun. We play basketball to have fun. We play basketball not just to play basketball. When we’re having fun out there it shows and I think we can beat anyone in the country.”
Alkins shot a combined 4 of 20 in UA’s losses to Washington and UCLA, and said his cure was that he simply took more shots in practice between games to get “the feel back in my shot.” He said his confidence did not change.
“I always had confidence in myself,” Alkins said. “That’s partly why I kept missing was because I kept shooting. I'm always thinking the next one’s going in.”
Miller played all his starters 30 minutes or more, with Allonzo Trier logging 38. But he mixed things up off the bench more than on Thursday: Keanu Pinder played nine minutes against UCLA and 12 against USC; Emmanuel Akot played 11 against UCLA and seven against USC; Ira Lee didn’t play against UCLA but played five minutes after being inserted when the Trojans kept making easy drives to the bucket during one first-half stretch.
“We met with our bench,” Miller said. “That’s one of a number of things we did between the games, and we talked about their importance. There are some guys who may not fill the stat sheet but their role in a game like tonight is vital -- to come in the game, play really hard and rest our starters.
“One of the things that happened to us in the UCLA game is we wore down. You have to believe in your bench but they have to know what to do when they come in. Ira, Keanu, they came in and made positive plays. Emmanuel’s day will come but right now we need him to be a really good defender, a guy who takes care of the ball. He did that tonight.”